After a year of global economic downturn and budget cuts for Whittier College, the school will end 2020 with an unrestricted $12 million donation from billionaire MacKenzie Scott.
As MacKenzie Scott points out on her Medium blog, throughout 2020, the health and economic effects of the pandemic have disproportionately favored billionaires while hurting minority groups like women, people of color, and the poor. Though the wealthiest woman in the world, a billionaire with a net worth of $56.5 billion and former wife of the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, Scott has dedicated a substantial portion of her wealth to the minorities affected by the pandemic, specifically allying with organizations that share her values of promoting gender equity, LGBTQIA+ rights, racial equity, economic mobility, climate change prevention, and more.
Whittier College was one of the 384 organizations across the 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, to receive a donation from Scott just in time for Christmas, and one of only 35 colleges from Scott’s original list of 6,490 organizations. Scott wrote a Medium post detailing her reasons for donating to her chosen organizations, and Whittier College seems to be one example of her dedication to funding “education for historically marginalized and underserved people.”
A small, private institution with a diverse student population that comprises of 69 percent students of color, Whittier College received Scott’s donation after a thorough search process, with factors including the College’s recent plan for addressing racial equity and inclusion in light of this year’s Black Lives Matter protests and fourth-year student Journee Bradford’s efforts with President Linda Oubré to promote Black inclusion on campus. President Oubré’s efforts on campus over the past few years were also instrumental in getting Whittier nominated for the donation, as her past colleague nominated the College for funding. MacKenzie Scott’s representative told Oubré “we selected Whittier and we selected you,” as a testament to her leadership. “They did real, real research on me as a leader, our leadership team and who our students and faculty are,” said Oubré, “so I think we all should be proud.”
President Linda Oubré told the Quaker Campus that the news of receiving the donation came as “a surprise but not a surprise.” On one hand, President Oubré was surprised by the email from MacKenzie Scott’s team informing her of the donation, which she first worried was a scam, though this was resolved after a Nov. 30 phone call with Scott’s representative. On the other hand, Oubré was confident the College would soon be recognized for a commitment to diversity and inclusion as well as student achievement. “From my first week I’ve been talking about equity and inclusion, and I heard a lot about what makes Whittier special,” said Oubré. “[T]here are very few institutions in the country that can say they produce the types of students that Whittier College produces.”
Whittier College will use the $12 million to fund “need-based scholarships, new innovative programs, the College’s Racial Justice and Equity Action Plan, the Office of Equity and Inclusion, the Gender Equity Center, environmental justice work, and faculty diversity efforts,” according to a Dec. 15 email from the Office of Marketing and Communications. Plans to specify where the donation will be used will be presented in early January.
In accepting the donation, Whittier College committed to use the funds without restriction according to WC leaders’ discretion and to “help the College now,” said Oubré. Originally, the donation was also confidential, only known by President Linda Oubré, Board of Trustees Chair Christopher G. Caldwell, and Vice President for Advancement Timothy Anderson. It was only permitted for Whittier College to announce after Scott announced it herself. When Scott decided to publicly announce the news Tuesday, Dec. 15, the Communications Office swiftly sent out a prewritten statement announcing the news to WC community members. “This was the hardest secret to keep!” Oubré said.
“Change is hard and change is faced with a lot of resistance. I’m glad we’re being recognized for doing the right thing because if you focus on the right things, you will get rewarded. The things that MacKenzie Scott wants to fund are the right things for our society to focus on.” -Whittier College President Linda Oubré
The College will spend the gift over the next two years to impact the college “in this time of covid and focus on racial and gender injustice,” said Oubré. Though the funds could be allotted to the endowment, which provides long-term aid with a smaller spending cap of about $500 thousand per year, Scott’s gift was intended to have quicker implementation, which the College agreed with and is planning to use swiftly. Although it will be spent quickly, the donation will likely have long-term effects on social and economic equity at Whittier College.
Though specific plans for spending the donation will not be finalized until January, President Oubré shares that creating need-based scholarships is one example of how the money will be spent while contributing to social equity. “Need-based scholarships for students [contribute] to equity, racial equity, social mobility, but also it helps us with our financial sustainability as an institution [because less donations tend to be allocated towards social equity],” said President Oubré. The College plans to offer scholarships to new and current students alike to promote retention and help students deal with any financial issues. As for now, division heads are developing initiatives to impact the College’s areas of focus: diversity, inclusion, and the environment with input from students, faculty, and board members.
Whittier College is already being recognized on a national level for its work in equity and inclusion as a result of MacKenzie’s Scott’s widespread donation efforts, with more social equity work to come soon. President Oubré stated, as a testament to the College’s upcoming initiatives, “Change is hard and change is faced with a lot of resistance. I’m glad we’re being recognized for doing the right thing because if you focus on the right things, you will get rewarded. The things that MacKenzie Scott wants to fund are the right things for our society to focus on.”
Feature image: Photo courtesy of Getty Images